young man holding hand to face, wincing in pain with a toothbrush in his hand

How do I know if I have dry socket?

If you recently had a tooth removed and are experiencing discomfort or other symptoms, you may be wondering if you have a dry socket. 

A dry socket is a complication of tooth removal. It happens when a blood clot fails to form over, or is dislodged from, the extraction site, leaving an empty socket[1]

In this blog post, we outline the common symptoms of a dry socket. We discuss what a dry socket looks like and the kind of pain you can expect if you have this problem. You’ll also find tips to help you manage the pain while you wait to see a dentist.

How do you know if you have dry socket? 

If you have a dry socket, you will likely experience one or more of the following classic tell-tale signs.

  • Pain

It’s normal for your mouth to feel tender after a tooth extraction. If you start to feel new pain within a few days of having a tooth removed, you may have a dry socket. Pain associated with a dry socket does not get better without treatment by a dentist. In fact, if you try to ignore it, you will find that it intensifies. 

  • An unpleasant taste

Immediately after you have a tooth extraction, you may experience a bad taste in your mouth. This is due to bleeding from the socket. People often describe the taste of blood as metallic. Once the bleeding has stopped completely, this metallic taste should go away. However, if you notice a foul taste even after the bleeding has stopped, you may have a problem. A bad taste in the days and weeks after having a tooth taken out is often caused by food or plaque getting trapped in an empty socket. If you have not been rinsing your mouth with salt water or you have been avoiding brushing the affected area, this can make the problem worse. 

  • Bad breath

If you notice that your breath smells foul after having a tooth removed, you should pay close attention. Bad breath following tooth removal surgery can be caused by a bacterial infection or a dry socket so it’s important not to ignore this sign. 

  • Swelling

It’s normal for your face to feel tender and swollen in the hours after you have a tooth removed. If swelling persists or returns, however, it’s usually a cause for concern. Swelling in the days and weeks after you have an extraction may be caused by an empty socket becoming inflamed.

It’s important to follow your dentist’s after-care instructions following a tooth extraction. If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms, you should consult your dentist as soon as possible[1]

What does dry socket look like? 

You may be able to tell if you have a dry socket from how the extraction site looks in the days after your surgery. If your wound is healing normally, you should see a blood clot over the socket. This will look like a dark red or purple, jelly-like scab. 

If you have a dry socket, on the other hand, this clot will be absent. Instead, you will see an empty hole and you may be able to see the exposed bone[1]

How painful is dry socket? 

A dry socket can cause severe pain, similar to that of a toothache. Unlike normal post-extraction discomfort, it does not go away over time. If you have a dry socket, you will find that the pain gets much worse if the problem is left untreated. The pain usually presents as a throbbing sensation or a dull ache in your jaw or gum. It may even radiate to your head, neck or ear. 

It’s important that you make an appointment to see your dentist if you suspect you have a dry socket. While you wait for your appointment, you can try some self-care tips to relieve your tooth pain as quickly as possible. These include taking painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, sticking to soft foods and using a hot or cold compress. You may also find it helpful to have a DenTek First Aid Kit on hand. This kit contains eugenol, which can help to disinfect and anaesthetise the affected area.[1]

Resources:

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/wisdom-tooth-removal/complications/

Neil Kotak
30/5/2023
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